A look back at the early years of Philip Roth through his own family photos, presented by imagine... and BBC Arts. Discover Roth's childhood in Newark, New Jersey, before Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint set him on the path to become one of America's greatest writers.

In a special two-part film, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author tells his story to Alan Yentob in imagine... Philip Roth Unleashed. Watch part one now on BBC iPlayer.

From the archive

Arena clips collection

Roth discusses his work in this collection of archive clips from Arena. First broadcast in 1993 to mark the publication of Operation Shylock and Roth's 60th birthday.

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Philip Roth (Getty)

About the author

One of America’s greatest and most divisive writers, Roth’s career spans 27 novels and has seen him win almost every major literary prize.

Although his stories rarely travel further than New York or New Jersey, as a chronicler of modern east coast American life he is second to none.

He first achieved critical acclaim for his 1959 debut Goodbye, Columbus. But it was 1969’s Portnoy’s Complaint, a comedic monologue about a young Jewish bachelor, that turned him into a major celebrity.

Alongside the publication of Goodbye, Columbus came the first of many controversies with Roth labelled ‘self-hating’ by a number of prominent American Jews. In 2011 Carmen Callil, judge of the Man Booker International Prize which honours a writer’s overall achievement in fiction, quit the panel in protest after it awarded Roth the title.

Roth loves to shock the reader, but many argue the extremes to which he goes are the basis of his value as a satirist.

His work often features semi-autobiographical themes and characters who share parallels with his own life: from Nathan Zuckerman, the protagonist of novels such as The Ghost Writer and The Human Stain, to the fictional ‘Philip Roth’ in The Plot Against America.

Born into a close-knit Jewish family in Newark in 1933, Roth graduated with an MA at the University of Chicago in 1955. In 1997 he won the Pullitzer Prize for American Pastoral, a work cited as an example of the Great American Novel.

He was interviewed by Mark Lawson for Radio 4’s Front Row in 2007, coinciding with the publication of Exit Ghost, the ninth novel featuring Nathan Zuckerman.

Roth’s final novel, Nemesis, was published in 2010. In a 2014 interview he said of his retirement: "I have no desire to write fiction. I did what I did and it's done.”

Simon Richardson, BBC Readings Unit